When one conjures up the name of
King Arthur, the vision is often not of the man but of Camelot, a castle of
magic where Merlin waits in the shadows, a hall with a great Round Table where
Arthur sits and dispenses justice and feasts surrounded by his knights, rose scented gardens where knights
love and ride to the fields of tourney or to war to save their world. The place
has come to symbolize the hope and passion of that age. But Arthur's great
fort was not the vast Norman stone castle of the modern movie making era.
Camelot is believed by some to have been situated atop the hill of
South Cadbury (the ancient Dinas Cadwy or Castellum Cataviae). Today, there is
a small village beside the hill in Somerset some 15 or so miles south of Glastonbury.
All that remains of the impressive Dark Age fort is archaeological evidence of
a ringed hillfort with a large hall inside the outer walls. The walls of the
fort were broad stone and timber ramparts with heavy gates. There have been some
extensive excavations of the site, and there are detailed reports of the archaeological
dig available. Whether this was Arthur's Camelot is not certain, but the site
was used during the period and clearly indicates occupation by a personage with
wealth and resources.
From Cadbury you can see, on a clear day, the Glastonbury Tor which
is often associated with Avalon, which to some strengthens the argument for the
Cadbury- Camelot connection.
Geoffrey of Monmouth does not even mention a Camelot but depicts Arthur
as a typical monarch of his era, in which, the king moved his court from region to
region, holding court in his estates or city holdings. Geoffrey mentions such sites
as Silchester where Arthur was crowned by St. Dubricius, the City of Legions (Caerleon)
where Arthur holds a plenary court, Winchester at Easter, Westminster at Whitsuntide,
and Gloucester at Christmas. John Morris in his 'Age of Arthur' uses the
similarities in the name Camalot (the early common spelling) and Camulodunum
(Colchester) to suggest its connection but follows Geoffrey in agreeing that Arthur
would have had to move his court in a circuit through the country, eating his way
as he went.
Chrètien's 'Lancelot' or the 'Knight of the Cart'
is the first mention of the Camelot of legend but he gives no real information as
to its location, making it more a splendid dream castle where Arthur goes from
Caerleon to conduct a feast and court for Ascension Day.
Dan Hunt stretches this
point and uses three other independent points from the sources to pinpoint
Camelot as Campus Elleti. 'The first clue as to the whereabouts of Camelot
is found in Chretien de Troyes' Knight Of The Cart, which is the first
source to name this site. According to Chretien, Camelot is "in the
region near Caerleon". For some reason, most authorities have seen
fit to ignore this statement, insisting that Camelot was placed near
Caerleon simply because of Geoffrey of Monmouth's glorified description of
the latter site as a major Arthurian center. If we do take Chretien's
statement seriously, Camelot looms before us out of the mists of time. The
second clue to the location of Camelot is from The Quest Of The Holy
Grail, wherein Arthur escorts the Grail questers from Camelot to a point
just shy of Castle Vagan. A third clue, from the Prose Tristan, places
Camelot either on or very near the sea. And fourth, the Mort Artu places
the castle on a river. Castle Vagan is St. Fagans Castle (Welsh Sain
Ffagan) 4-5 miles west of Cardiff. This site lies in the Ely Valley, the
supposed location of the Campus Elleti of Aurelius Ambrosius. Campus
Elleti was said to be in Glywysing, the later Morgannwg/Glamorgan. Only a
dozen miles separate Campus Elleti from Caerleon. In my opinion, Campus
Elleti, with Latin Campus rendered as French Champ (the p of which is
silent), became Camelot.' The main flaw in the logic is that none of the
sources corroborate the other using the same info, leaving us with four
independent facts, not four overlapping.
There are other sites with Camelot connections including:
Winchester as the indicated choice in Malory's time and as argued by
John Whitehead; Viroconium, the Dark Age capital of Powys; Kelliwic in
Cornwall; and even Stonehenge itself on the Salisbury plains due to its
connection to the Round Table.
Camelot in Malory's le Morte